Process Ontology

Studying SES based on process or relational ontologies

This component of the MuSES project (Towards middle-range theories of the co-evolutionary dynamics of multi-level social-ecological systems) explores to what extent process ontologies can help us better understand two important aspects of social-ecological systems (SES): the interdependence between humans and nature and their behavior as complex adaptive systems (CAS). A process ontology emphasizes the importance of processes and relations over substance or entities, thus focusing on “becoming” rather than “being”. Process ontology may allow to better capture the many relations between humans and nature as well as properties of CAS such as emergence. However, “grounding” SES analysis in a process ontology may have far-reaching epistemological and methodological consequences. Most of the methods and approaches that we currently use to analyze SES as CAS are in some way or another grounded in a substance ontology, i.e. they understand “being” as static and unchanging. We will explore opportunities and challenges provided by process ontologies in SES research according to two dimensions:

First, we will seek to apply a process ontology to emergent phenomena in the framework of the MuSES project’s case studies in Mexico (small-scale fisheries) and Uzbekistan (water management). Those case studies use agent based modeling (ABM) in order to explain and account for emergent phenomena. We particularly focus on exploring how to design an ABM – that is the abstractions and dynamics it is grounded on – from a process perspective.

Second, we explore the status of knowledge acquired from a process perspective. Can it be used to construct theories? If yes, what kind of theories? What about the explanatory (on the one hand) and predictive (on the other hand) power of such theories? And, most importantly, what are the practical implications for the management of SES from such a perspective?

Keywords: Process Ontology | Relational Ontology | human-nature relations | complex adaptive systems
People: Tilman Hertz, Maria Mancilla Garcia, Maja Schlüter
Funding: ERC MuSES
More info: coming soon